Good communication skills are very important!

Recently, I had the following article published in the November 28, 2013, edition of The Colchester Weekly News.  While it is general in nature, the implications for the non-profit world are clear.  It is important to assess how well your non-profit organization communicates both internally and externally.  It can make all the difference between the success and failure of your organization.

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Good communication skills are very important!

Most of you will be able to recall a time or two when in either a personal or a business situation a miscommunication occurred that resulted in hurt feelings, the breakdown of a relationship, or a loss of business. This is all too common.

Most of us take communication for granted. We acquire the skills of written and spoken communication while growing up in our families, being with our friends, and attending school. It is hard to discount these three influences on our speech and written words.

Of course education is important in learning the necessary skills to communicate well. In school we learn the different parts of speech, how to spell, how make good sentences and paragraphs, and how to write in ways that convey feelings and evoke images. School offers a safe place to refine both written and spoken communication skills. When we make mistakes in either of these forms, we are corrected by our teachers. So we all get an equal start having had similar instruction.

Actually the above might be a bit of an over-generalization, as we really have not had similar instruction. Certainly, regardless of where and when we attended school, our teachers taught us how to read and write. What have changed over the past decades have been the methods of instruction. Each method of instruction had both its positive features and its negative features, influencing how well students who exited the public education system were able to perform in their communication skills.

Family, friends and our communities also have a huge influence on our speech patterns. We tend to be influenced by what we hear around us and emulate what we hear. Such influences affect our speech cadence, tone, inflection, language usage, vocabulary choices, and often imbue us with local/regional ‘accents.’  In most cases, we tend to incorporate these language tendencies into our everyday speech unconsciously.  It is part of the social phenomenon called ‘fitting in’, which most of us aspire to. Unconscious a process as it is, we are often unaware that we are making these adaptations.  The following examples serve to illustrate that regardless of your level of education your speech can be affected by the people and the environment around you.

I recall back in the first year of my university days, I started hanging out with a couple of guys, one of whom was an anglophone who had grown up in Quebec. He spoke with clipped French-influenced English, and I found that I was mimicking his manner of speech whenever I was around him. After awhile, I realized what I had been doing and I eliminated this mannerism.

I had a first cousin who was born and grew up in Nova Scotia until her adult years. She went to Dalhousie University and became a nurse.  In her twenties, she married a guy from New Zealand and they moved there. A few years later, she came back home for a visit, and I was totally amazed by her New Zealand accent (much like an Australian accent). You would have thought she was New Zealand born.

While our spoken communications may sound a bit odd to those outside of our circles of influence, most people can still understand us.  Our voices are rich with tone and inflection that help those with whom we are speaking to understand us, and if we’re in their presence while speaking with them, our body language will enhance our spoken words and subsequently improve our levels of communication.  This is not to say they we do not sometimes get ourselves into trouble.  Perhaps we do not choose our words carefully or perhaps we get caught up in emotion and misspeak ourselves. This is why it is important to reflect upon what we are about to say before we actually say it.

Written communications frequently pose the greatest challenges. Where once written letters ruled the way we communicated with those far away from us and faxes communicated our messages to business colleagues, our written communications now are dominated by e-mails and instant messaging platforms.  A sign of the times perhaps, the days of the flowery composition, rich with beautiful hand-writing and evocative of emotion, sincerity and passion, are long gone.  E-mail messages and instant messages, typically composed in a brief span of time, rarely demonstrate the depth of emotion of the sender, surrendered as it is in the demands for immediacy.

Whether it is the written communications favoured above or it is a simple degeneration in writing skills, written communications fail now more than ever due to typos, poor vocabulary choices, grammatical and spelling errors, and lack of expression in the written message.

I recall many years ago, I noted an item for sale in the classified section of a newspaper. Someone was offering for sale a ‘4 x 4 Ford Bronco with wench.” I truly believe that this person really was not offering for sale a truck along with a young serving woman.  I expect that what was being offered was a ‘4 x 4 Ford Bronco with winch’, which would make a whole lot more sense.  Whether the spelling/meaning error was that of the original submitter of the ad or with the editor who approved it, it matters little; the ad was out there for all to see.

There are a number of people with whom I communicate by e-mail. I have learned that some of these folks do not read my message beyond the first question that I might ask of them. I know this because their return e-mail responds to only this first question.  I then have to re-send with my other original inquiries. I have also received business e-mails from those who I know are very educated people, but their messages are such that I must struggle for the meaning.

We have all seen text messages and Facebook postings that leave us trembling with the urge to correct the sender/poster. The fact is that outside of the school environment, most adults do not appreciate having their spelling, vocabulary choices, or grammar corrected.

Now being a glass-half-full kind of guy, I believe that most people do know how to communicate correctly; it is just that they fall into old communication habits without thinking about it or perhaps it’s just a bit of laziness. I know I’ve been guilty of that on occasion myself.

The year 2014 will be upon us in another month.  The start of the coming year might be a perfect time to make a New Year’s resolution to improve upon the quality of our communications with others.  Let’s take that extra bit of time to get our messages right.  As I have previously said, the English language is a beautiful thing. Let’s use it to its full advantage.

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